Are you considering self-ligating braces for your orthodontic treatment, but don’t understand exactly how they work? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Self-ligating braces can seem a bit complex, and often not the “holy grail” they’re advertised to be.
Like any type of braces, self-ligating brackets are just a tool. The first thing patients do when looking to straighten their teeth is find an orthodontist they can trust. Some orthodontists prefer to use traditional metal braces, while others rely more on self-ligating braces like Damon.
So, your orthodontist’s personal experience plays a huge role in the type of appliance you’ll get. If your orthodontist leans into using self-ligating braces and you trust their expertise, then go for it!
How are self-ligating braces different?
Self-ligating brackets as we know them today were invented in the 80s to solve some of the problems of traditional fixed braces. As a result, self-ligating braces are smaller, more hygienic, and most of all, more convenient for busy orthodontic practices.
From an orthodontist’s point of view, self-ligating braces are better because we see patients less. This allows for a more streamlined approach to orthodontic treatment, not to mention the ability to take on more patients.
But what does this mean for the person wearing the braces? Are self-ligating braces better than their conventional counterpart, or just more convenient? Let’s compare them and find out.
Self-Ligating Braces vs. Traditional Braces
The main difference between self-ligating braces and traditional braces is how the wire is secured to the bracket.
With traditional braces, tiny elastic rings or ligatures are wrapped around each bracket to hold the wire in place. This elastic ligature eventually loosens up and becomes contaminated with plaque, which makes it ineffective and well, a little gross.
Self-ligating brackets use a small metal clip instead of elastic to secure the wire. This mechanism is what makes self-ligating braces more sophisticated, but it also changes the way teeth move and straighten.
Since the wire can slide freely inside the self-ligating bracket slot, it allows for faster, unrestricted movement in the first few months, when the wire is round and thin.
As the treatment progresses, and we go to bigger wires, the clip holds the wire tightly inside the bracket, expressing even more intricate movements of the teeth.
Is treatment faster with self-ligating braces?
Self-ligating braces often come with the promise of a quicker treatment time compared to traditional braces. This is because self-ligating systems are designed to reduce friction, which is something we want in orthodontics.
Patients might enjoy a slightly shorter journey to their perfect smile, depending on their individual case. Typically, you can expect your treatment to be 3 to 4 months shorter using these braces. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot.
By the time we get to bigger wires, the speed of self-ligating braces tends to level out and they become as efficient as traditional braces. This is because bigger wires generate more friction. Plus, we actually want some friction in the final stages of treatment so we can better control the outcome.
My experience with self-ligating brackets has been mixed, with some of them actually taking longer than traditional ones. Granted, I used passive self-ligating braces in those particular cases and waited for a long time for the bite to level out.
The efficacy of self-ligating braces will highly depend on the brand and the orthodontist’s experience.
Ceramic self-ligating braces actually work slower than metal braces in general, so that’s another aspect to keep in mind.
So, don’t trust claims that self-ligating braces are twice as fast. It’s simply not true and highly depends on the patient’s particular bite, teeth, and bone. Lastly, treatment length also depends on the orthodontist’s style and what they call a “finished” case.
Self-ligating braces need less appointments
With self-ligating braces, fewer adjustments are typically needed. In fact, they barely need adjusting at all, since the clip can hold the wire in place until it’s time to change it.
However, we still prefer to see our patients about every 8 weeks to monitor their progress and do two things:
Some cases get solved in 10-12 appointments or less. That’s beyond convenient for most patients and orthodontists alike. But, like I said, not all people will be so lucky, so it’s best to adjust your expectations.
Self-ligating Braces and Color Options
Traditional braces have the upper hand when it comes to expressing your personality with colored elastics. For younger patients, this is sometimes their sole motivation for wanting or accepting braces.
Self-ligating braces are very discreet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a time when you can use color.
During orthodontic treatment, some spaces and gaps can open up and they need to be closed. For that purpose, we use a continuous elastic ligature called power chain on top of self-ligating braces.
Power chains come in many colors, and you can choose a different one at every appointment. So that’s a fun way to make your braces pop.
If you’re wearing rubber bands, those come in different colors too, just ask your orthodontist.
Most people wearing self-ligating braces aren’t interested in wearing color, so that’s why their orthodontists assume they want something discreet. But it’s still good to know you have options.
Understanding Self-Ligating Brace Design
Passive Vs. Active Self-Ligating Brackets
When it comes to self-ligating braces, there are two main types: Passive Self-Ligating Braces (PSLB) and Active Self-Ligating Braces (ASLB). The primary difference between them lies in their design and how they interact with archwires.
Passive self-ligating braces have a deeper slot, and their clip sits away from the wire, allowing the wire to move freely.
On the other hand, active self-ligating braces feature a shallower slot, and the clip is spring-loaded and pressed onto the wire, providing more control over tooth movement. In a way, ASLBs are closer to traditional braces in terms of how they work.
Interestingly, studies have shown that ASLBs are often more efficient than passive braces, and I also found that to be true in my practice.
I know the difference between ASLB and PSLB can be confusing, and you’re not required, as a patient, to be familiar with these terms. Ultimately, it’s your orthodontist who decides what tools to use routinely in their practice.
Metal & Ceramic Self-Ligating Braces
You’ll find that self-ligating braces are available in both metal and ceramic options. The choice depends on your aesthetic preferences as well as how they feel in your mouth. Typically, ceramic braces are smoother than metal ones.
Metal self-ligating brackets are small, low profile, and quite easy to clean around. The fact that they’re all-metal makes them visible, but low-key. Metal braces are the most effective and come with many advantages.
Ceramic self-ligating braces are tooth-colored and can have metal clips, which are more visible, or ceramic clips, which makes them super discreet.
Self-ligating ceramic braces don’t stain as much as traditional ceramic braces, because they don’t have elastic ligatures that turn yellow.
But the downside is that the ceramic clips can make ceramic self-ligating braces quite big and some people have trouble closing their lips.
How self-ligating braces work
Self-ligating braces work by applying a different type of pressure onto the teeth thanks to their built-in clip.
The clip in self-ligating braces does essentially two things:
- It reduces friction and allows the wire to move freely while straightening your teeth;
- It fully engages the wire inside the bracket.
As a result, self-ligating braces work very well with thinner wires, at least in the beginning, which makes them more gentle. The continuous force applied by the clip makes self-ligating braces more effective and faster in certain scenarios.
Aside from the clip, self-ligating braces work much in the same way conventional braces do. They will still need bite blocks to open up the bite, rubber bands, and powerchains to close gaps and settle the bite.
As the treatment progresses, your orthodontist will change the wire a few times. Some users of self-ligating braces use fewer wires, sometimes as little as 3 wires in total.
This makes treatment more effective and comfortable since you won’t need to go through the pain of adjusting to a new wire too many times.
Who Should Get Self-Ligating Braces?
Self-ligating braces are a great option for most kids and adults, especially when dealing with crowding cases. The design of these braces allows for a more efficient and comfortable treatment process.
Kids and teenagers can benefit from self-ligating brackets because they’re smaller and more hygienic. This reduces the risk of gum inflammation and cavities, particularly since this age group struggles with properly brushing their teeth.
Adults like the convenience and discreet look of self-ligating braces. Their gentle effect on teeth straightening makes them perfect for sensitive patients with low thresholds of pain.
You should get self-ligating braces if:
However, there may be cases where more control is needed. I would advise you to avoid self-ligating braces if you need tooth extractions or orthognathic surgery. They can still work but are a little more high-maintenance. In these situations, it’s best to consult with your orthodontist.
You should also avoid getting self-ligating braces if your orthodontist doesn’t routinely offer them, since they operate with different mechanics and require a few extra skills.
Self-Ligating Braces Costs
Self-ligating braces usually come with a price tag that’s a bit higher than conventional braces. You’re looking at a range of about $3,000 to $8,000.
This cost can be influenced by several factors. Where you live can make a big difference, with some areas having higher healthcare costs in general.
More complex dental situations typically require more time and materials, which means a higher cost. The skill and reputation of your orthodontist are also factored into the price—you’re not just paying for braces but also for the expertise in applying and handling them.
Insurance may cover a part of the cost, but it’s quite variable. They might pay a portion, or they might consider self-ligating braces a cosmetic procedure and offer no coverage at all.
After your braces come off, you’ll need retainers to keep your teeth in their new position. The cost of retainers isn’t usually included in the initial quote for braces, and they can add hundreds of dollars to your overall expenses.
If you’re interested in ceramic self-ligating braces, they come at a higher cost than metal ones due to the materials used.
Do self-ligating braces hurt more?
Self-ligating braces are often advertised as causing less pain and discomfort compared to traditional braces. This is because they use thin wires in the beginning and allow that wire to work for longer in between appointments.
However, some patients have reported experiencing painful adjustments during the tightening process because of all the pressure applied when handling the clips.
The clips on self-ligating braces can be challenging to open or close and may even become stuck or break.
Typically, self-ligating braces save a few minutes of chair time since the clips are so fast to open and close. But when running into issues like clips malfunctioning, self-ligating braces may be more trouble than they’re worth.
Importance of Oral Hygiene
Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential for a successful treatment with self-ligating braces. Self-ligating brackets have a lot of small components, springs, clips and tiny holes that can become covered in plaque.
Plaque will turn into tartar over time, which can jam the locking mechanism and prevent the wire from moving freely.
It’s super important to brush your teeth twice per day, use interdental brushes, floss, and a water flosser to get into all the nooks and crannies. I would also suggest going to a professional cleaning every 2 months to keep the brackets and teeth in pristine condition.
So, are self-ligating braces better?
Despite their popularity in some parts of the world, self-ligating braces like Damon aren’t necessarily better than conventional braces. It all depends on the professional using them.
Studies haven’t been able to prove a significant difference between the efficacy of self-ligating brackets and traditional brackets.
In my office, I’ve been able to see a difference in comfort levels and efficacy in the first months of treatment. I’ve also been able to cut down on how often I see my SL patients. This is, in my opinion, the biggest advantage.
So, if you’re short on time, self-ligating braces may be a more convenient choice. They offer more control than clear aligners and may work faster as well.